The hills are made of mostly of volcanic rock, marine sediment, basalt, and limestone. This whole area, including the Dolomites, was a under sea water at some point. Now, exposed to acid rain which disintegrates limestone readily, the Dolomites and the Colli Berici hills are pock-marked with crevices and caves. Not surprisingly, the area is a fantastic place to explore caves and rock climb.
In the closest town to us, Longare, there is an interesting (although a little creepy) US Army installation that reminds me of something straight out of an episode of Lost. They call it "Pluto." There are 1970's green forts and towers nested in the disintegrating hills, surrounded by barbed wire and overgrowth. The picture shows the state of the overgrowth in 1999 (click the picture to enlarge it, for a better look).
Mateo works in one of the buildings. I have not been able to visit inside his office because I don't have the security clearance to do so, but he says it's just as creepy inside as it is outside. There are microphones hanging from the ceiling!
The annual sagra (small fair) held in the grounds of the town's church is great! They serve pig spine and polenta as the specialty of the night. Yes, sounds gross, but it's actually not bad. You can also sample numerous local wines inexpensively with an animated bartender whose actually a civil engineer the rest of the year. Last year Mateo and I bought a sketch of the area from a local artist. We have yet to get it framed, of course.
The next town over from Longare was a serendipitous find for me one afternoon: Costozza. Its main road is narrow, winding, short and packed with photo opportunities: the clustering of imposing villas, an old icehouse which has been converted into a wine bar frequented by locals, a large garden, trees, a public washing area, a sign that says "Galileo slept here," and some kind of shrine.
A stop at the icehouse, which is now a wine bar
called La Botte del covolo (The Barrels of the Cave), is an absolute must for us any time we are in the area. The dome shaped building used to house the town's ice for the year. Snow was shoveled in the opening at the top, which now acts as the perfect vent for cigarette smoke.
There are caves below the icehouse that cool the bar to a consistent temperature year-round. The caves or caverns reach back far into the surrounding hills and connect to many of the oldest and grandest villas.
Inside the caverns, called cavoli, the temperat
ure doesn't drop below 43 degrees in winter and doesn't rise above 59 in summer. Central air ala 19th century!
The numerous caves in the area provide the perfect climate (cool, dry, and consistent) to age wine and grow mushrooms! And, you can get a tour below into the caverns from one of the owners! One of the tunnels/caves reaches far back into the hills of the area and is connected to the Army Installation (Pluto) which I mentioned earlier. (It's off-limits, naturally.)
Due bicchieri di vino locale rosso, per favore.
Translation: "Two glasses of the local red wine, please."
Price per glass at La Botte del Cavolo: about 80 cents.
A quick jaunt down the road and you'll reach Lumignano. Their main attractions are the rock climbing routes housed behind the town church. I am certainly not Sporty Spice, and rock climbing, while it looks really impressive and somewhat appealing, is simply NOT for me. I can't do a push up or a pull up to save my life, and I would think those skills would be required minimums for successful rock climbing.
I like the area because on the first Sunday of the month, you can take a short hiking trail along the side of one of the Berici Hills and reach an old hermitage. The building is impressive. It's built right intothe side of the hill. Inside you can see its back wall is the unpainted side of the hill! It's pretty amazing in my opinion.
I don't exactly understand who originally built it and for what reason, but there is a
sign that warns you that under the floorboards there lie the bones of 8 unidentified bodies.
So, those are three small towns near our own, that are a part of the Colli Berici hills. They're just what you'd expect and hope from an Italian town: quaint, full of history, beautiful, and welcoming.